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Why AMC's HELL ON WHEELS Is a Hot Mess

"Hell on Wheels," whose third season premiered just two weeks ago, is widely and justifiably regarded as the worst offering on AMC to date. The reason? Bad acting, bad scripts, a bad concept, and a long line of small- and big-screen Westerns that have done everything "Hell on Wheels" aims to do, but exponentially better.
  • By Seth Abramson
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  • August 30, 2013 8:32 AM
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  • 21 Comments

MATT ZOLLER SEITZ: The Failures, Successes, Possibilities, and Danger Signs of HELL ON WHEELS

Like a lot of people, I watched the first few episodes of AMC's "Hell on Wheels," Joe and Tony Gayton’s drama about the building of the transcontinental railroad, and then checked out. It wasn't awful, but a lot of it was weak, and even in its better moments it seemed not to have found its tone yet. The pilot and the next couple of episodes seemed stranded between grubby naturalism and slick, empty mythmaking. In one scene, the show would feel like a wannabe "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" or "Deadwood" muddy and lyrical and depressive. In another it would echo Sergio Leone or early Clint Eastwood ("High Plains Drifter" and "The Outlaw Josey Wales" especially). Yet another scene would feel anachronistic, glossy, and weightless. When I finally did catch up after the New Year, what I saw made me wish I'd been watching the show in real time. "Hell on Wheels" didn't turn into a great drama, but it settled into a distinctive groove, growing more relaxed and confident by the week, dealing with painful historical subjects and unique personal crises that most TV, even Western-themed TV, often ignores, and indulging in some of the most deliriously cinematic montages this side of "Breaking Bad." Some scenes and moments were flat-out amazing — so unlike anything else on TV that they made me want to forgive or forget the just-okay dialogue and production design and hit-and-miss performances.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz
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  • January 16, 2012 8:38 PM
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  • 0 Comments

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